Israel, US deny veracity of transcript of ‘hostile’ Obama call to Netanyahu

Israeli TV’s account of Sunday night conversation, featuring unfriendly president unwilling to listen to counter-arguments, ‘bears no resemblance to reality,’ both sides say

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Barack Obama, left, and Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House in 2013. (Pete Souza/The White House/File)
Barack Obama, left, and Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House in 2013. (Pete Souza/The White House/File)

Senior American and Israeli officials swiftly and adamantly denied the veracity of a purported transcript of the phone conversation between US President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday, which was broadcast Tuesday by Israel’s state-run Channel 1 TV station.

The purported transcript reflected a tense and even “hostile” conversation, the TV report noted, with Obama ostensibly resolute in demanding that Israel unilaterally hold its fire in Gaza and coldly discarding all of Israel’s security concerns.

Washington and Jerusalem used similar language to state that “Neither reports nor alleged transcript bear any resemblance to reality.”

In the wake of the American and Israeli denials, the journalist who broadcast the report, Oren Nahari, told The Times of Israel that he stood by it.

In his TV report, Nahari, a veteran Channel 1 journalist, said that a senior American official forwarded him a transcript of the two leaders’ 35-minute conversation. They spoke about positive issues, such as Netanyahu thanking Obama for the administration’s support for Israel, he said. But during the part in which they discussed efforts to reach a ceasefire to end Operation Protective Edge, the president was “unfriendly, stiff-necked, unwilling to listen to counter-arguments” and even “hostile,” he said, quoting the American official.

Oren Nahari (photo credit: Courtesy)
Oren Nahari (photo credit: Courtesy)

Obama opened the conversation with a declaration, Nahari said, quoting from the purported transcript [Hebrew link]: “I demand that Israel agrees to an immediate unilateral ceasefire and ends all attacks — especially air strikes.”

The conversation then ostensibly unfolded as follows:

Netanyahu purportedly responds: “And what will Israel receive in return for a ceasefire?”

Obama answers vaguely: “I believe that Hamas will stop firing rockets — calm in return for calm.”

But Hamas has violated all five previous ceasefires, Netanyahu tells the president. “It’s a terrorist organization dedicated to Israel’s destruction.”

The president doesn’t want to listen. “I repeat: I expect Israel to unilaterally cease all military operations. The images of destruction from Gaza distance the world from Israel’s position.”

Netanyahu replies that US Secretary John Kerry’s proposal for a ceasefire (which the Israeli cabinet unanimously rejected Friday) was “utterly unrealistic and provided Hamas with military and diplomatic advantages.”

Obama: “Within a week after Israel’s military operation ends, Qatar and Turkey will start negotiations with Hamas on the basis of 2012 ceasefire (which ended the 2012 Operation Pillar of Defense), including Israel’s commitment to lift the siege and other restrictions on Gaza.”

A stunned Netanyahu replies that Turkey and Qatar are Hamas’s biggest supporters and that they can’t be relied upon to act as fair interlocutors.

“I trust Qatar and Turkey,” Obama retorts. “Israel is not at all in the position to choose its mediators.”

The Israeli leaders protests, arguing that Hamas will be allowed to launch rockets and use tunnels for terror attacks — but at this point Obama interrupts him: “The ball is in Israel’s court. It must end all its military operations.”

Washington and Jerusalem immediately denied Channel 1’s report.

It is “totally false,” tweeted Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security advisor.

It is “shocking and disappointing someone would sink to misrepresenting” a private conversation between Obama and Netanyahu to the Israeli press, read a tweet from the official account of the National Security Council. “Neither reports nor alleged transcript bear any resemblance to reality.”

Using the same language, the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem released the following statement: “We have seen these reports, and neither the reports nor the alleged transcript bear any resemblance to reality. It’s shocking and disappointing that someone would sink to misrepresenting a private conversation between the President and the Prime Minister in fabrications to the Israeli press.”

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